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More Evidence That Multitasking Reduces Productivity 133

Posted by Soulskill
from the rub-belly-pat-head dept.
bdking writes "A recent study by a Louisiana State University psychology professor adds more evidence to the argument that the human brain is incapable of performing numerous tasks without memory and productivity loss. 'In four separate experiments, both local second-graders and LSU psychology students were shown words on a computer screen and instructed to remember them in the correct sequence. As the participants read the words, they also sometimes heard unrelated words in the headphones all were wearing. Adults in the LSU study showed a word recall performance drop of 10% on average, while the second-graders’ performance diminished by up to 30% on average.'"
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More Evidence That Multitasking Reduces Productivity

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  • by Psychotria (953670) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:08PM (#41379523)

    I propose that a new word is added to the English dictionary: distraction.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Would you rather do more things okay or do one thing excellent?

    • by obarel (670863) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:12PM (#41379581)

      Here's the thing: would you like to do things once and finish them, or keep fixing the mistakes you've made while being distracted?

    • by sjames (1099)

      Alas, that's not your choices. You can either do one thing well followed by another in X time or you can do both at once poorly in 1.1X time (and then do them again later because they needed to be done well).

    • by rgbatduke (1231380) <rgb@phy.dukDEGASe.edu minus painter> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @06:05PM (#41380289) Homepage
      Except that is not what they tested, is it? They tested people on whether or not they could work efficiently if they are distracted, not whether or not multitasking improves or doesn't improve efficiency.

      The silly thing is that we actually know quite a lot about task organization for efficient multitasking. It is a key component of task scheduling on any computer. Fine grained multitasking -- especially on a CPU that has a large latency component for switching tasks, is known as "thrashing", and is also known to degrade performance substantially, and whacking a computer with a steady stream of pointless interrupts so that it is always thrashing slows it down.

      At the same time, executing tasks with the right granularity and with the right kinds of latency and parallelism can speed things up quite a lot compared to doing tasks one at a time. This, too, is true in life as much as it is in computers. Anybody who cooks knows that you cannot generally make a good meal in serial fashion. If you want to serve rice with a stir fry and end up with dessert in a timely manner, you have to be cooking the rice, chilling the dessert, and chopping up and frying the main course all "at the same time", with layered overlaps in the attention you pay to the different tasks. The tasks are all related and a skilled cook can juggle quite a few of them without cognitive or operational overload and finish a meal far faster than anyone would ever finish it cooking one thing at a time (to a soggy, cold, unproductive finish).

      Most normal humans multitask all the time. I listen to music and work while wiggling my feet to maintain circulation. I hop from answering email to posting silly things like this reply to doing work on task A to doing work on task B to doing work on task C -- so much the more so when my tasks are all different, all use the computer (or a number of computers) and take different amounts of time (attended or unattended) to move on to the next stage of completion. Yes, I can be overloaded, I can thrash in my normal work if overloaded so little gets done, but that is entirely different from asking if I can work when somebody is randomly blasting uncorrelated and meaningless distractions into my workspace.

      rgb
      • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @08:03PM (#41381469)

        Wow, this is so far off the mark that I'm amazed you got upvoted at all. It's especially clear that you have no background in psychology, and your computer metaphor is particularly gross and is typical of when a computer scientist makes fanciful speculations on the nature of human cognition...

        First of all, the claim was not that it is impossible to "multitask" in the ways you mention. Let me preface by saying this gets a little more complex with well-rehearsed tasks that have acquired some level of automaticity to them.

        Furthermore,

        Except that is not what they tested, is it? They tested people on whether or not they could work efficiently if they are distracted, not whether or not multitasking improves or doesn't improve efficiency.

        When it comes to humans, this is essentially the same thing, as attentional focus switches between tasks. Even though the brain is massively parallel, much of human cognition, functionally speaking, works serially. I'm sure you've noticed that the more you attend to the road while driving the less you can follow the music that is playing, and vice versa. Although the nature of attention or what is even the best way to define "attention" is somewhat up in the air, quite generally the more you switch between tasks and the more attentional resources are required, the more you will suffer in performance of all the tasks. It's cute that some of the comments here on slashdot basically amount to, "well, these guys are wrong, just look at what you do in the kitchen!" as if that addresses anything the psychologists are saying. Do you really think psychologists are claiming you can't fart and chew bubble gum at the same time? Hell, let's use that cooking example--how much do you want to bet that the busier a restaurant is (keep the number of employees constant), the rate of errors increases drastically? Yeah, exactly.

        Most interesting of all is why slashdot is posting this story, since this sort of thing pretty established in psychological science and many experimental methodologies and techniques regarding attention do just this sort of thing, although maybe not across the same sensory modalities.

        • by petsounds (593538)

          I'm sure you've noticed that the more you attend to the road while driving the less you can follow the music that is playing, and vice versa.

          No. Quite the opposite, in my case. Music provides a rhythm which focuses my brain, and this is true whether I'm driving or involved in another task.

          However, if someone is talking to me in the car, or I'm trying to listen to a talk radio show, I have trouble focusing on both. Perhaps that is different for others.

        • It's not the sa,e thing at all. They showed that doing a task while also being distracted by a NON-task reduced the effectiveness of the one and only task. That's not multi-tasking. A better test would have been to ask the subjects to remember what was shown and what was heard, to actually multi-task. Then count as the score any word remembered - whether the word was shown or heard. They failed by crediting only the performance on task #1. To use a real world multi-tasking example, suppose you are sorti
        • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Wednesday September 19, 2012 @04:26AM (#41384329) Journal

          What is multi-tasking. Doing several tasks, each individual task segmented into short activities, combined together to a larger activity for several hours OR trying to pat your head and rub your stomach while performing open heart surgery, piloting a jet in combat and making love... okay, this is slashdot... jerking off.

          Women often claim they multi-task better then men but this is usually the first type. Putting the laundry in, making a shopping list, dropping the kids off, go to work, run an errand, make a call, do the shopping, put laundry in dryer, prepare the long cooking part of dinner, pick kids up, listen to their stories, finish cooking etc etc.

          This is multi-tasking, computer style. A computer (single CPU at least) does NOT do multipletasks... AT THE SAME TIME. Rather it switches between them and being a computer, it does this really fast. For humans, the switching can only be done so fast but sometimes it is necessary.

          But it has been shown beyond a doubt that doing two tasks at the same time is something we are very bad at. All humans. Driving and doing ANYTHING else at the same time, massively increases the chance of an accident. Yes you to, wonder driver.

          This test was not about doing several tasks that people had to switch between, but doing several things at once.

          Useful multi-tasking still allows you to concentrate on each individual task fully OR trade-off accuracy (listening to kids while doing housework, watching TV while going, "your right" to the wive... okay... your mom. But as any husband knows, this is highly dangerous because you might miss something essential. And then their is hell to pay.

          I can read a document and talk on the phone at the same time but I also find I make far more reading mistakes, missing entire lines or reading a word completely wrong causing me to mis-interpret the text.

          MindlessAutomata (on-topic nick if ever there was one) makes however one mistake. The human brain isn't massively parallel, our entire body is. You! do not exist. Rather there is a collection of individual cells, tiny lifeforms many of which don't have any of "your" DNA (bacteria) which have formed a "colony" not unlike a coral where multiple animals work together to survive and reproduce. Your gut for instance can be severed from your brain and continue to function. Few other parts can do that as paraplegics demonstrate by being unable to move below the waste but still have their gut work just fine.

          You don't even have think about most massive processing your brain does. You can "think" about what you are seeing without even knowing or controlling HOW you see. How all that light is processed into a picture. We don't even think about, for the longest time we didn't even understand. Or language. How come you understand these strange symbols?

          But this again, is not multi-tasking. It is closer to a computer having seperate processors for discrete tasks.

          Truly doing several things at once, is hard.

          Just pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. And no, it doesn't count if you learned yourself how to do that. Then you are just doing ONE thing that just involves two hands. That is easy, any mechanic can do that. The trick about the patting and rubbing is doing two things you normally never do together, at once. And then your massive brain has serious problems.

      • by daem0n1x (748565)

        You're talking about apples and oranges. Cooking is definitely a multitasking activity, but all the tasks require very low concentration, so it works. And a big kitchen normally has several specialised workstations where one guy is doing the same thing the whole day, like there's one grill and the same guy does all the grilling.

        Also, listening to music and tapping your feet has nothing to do with multitasking. These activities are sent to the background and can perfectly happen while you're focusing on a

        • Also, listening to music and tapping your feet has nothing to do with multitasking. These activities are sent to the background and can perfectly happen while you're focusing on a specific task. Having to lose focus all the time because of telephone calls is completely different and is a serious productivity killer.

          Fair enough. However, the study was also apples and oranges -- that was my primary point. It measured the degradation in utility executing a single primary task without allowing for the util
      • This is important. Also, language is processed through a single neurological center which links various abstract concepts together (such as geometry and coloring). This has less to do with multi-tasking, and language interpretation would have a large impact; although other spatial tasks may become difficult when done in tandem with abstract or logical tasks, some combinations would work well. An array of related spatial tasks, for example, would all be easy because they're context-related; but unrelated
  • Lefties (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Lefties are known to be better at multitasking, so I'm wondering how many of these students were lefty. TFA doesn't mention this information.
  • by dskoll (99328) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:09PM (#41379533)

    I was reading about this in a couple of other tabs when... dang... lost my train of thought...

  • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:09PM (#41379539)

    Look at the high cost of loud open plan cube farms... imagine being able to lower your salary costs by 10% to 30% by productivity increases, merely by providing a more humane working environment.

    Isn't it odd that you never hear people complaining, "I'm trying to concentrate here, so make a bunch of noise, OK?"

    • by samazon (2601193)
      Right? When I'm not busy posting on /. or using gchat, I can't get any work done due to the people wandering through my office area! I could make six times the posts here if people would just bugger off!
    • by tlambert (566799) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:22PM (#41379715)

      If you can listen to music and code at the same time, then you tend to do better in an open plan cube farm, but due to continuous partial attention, perhaps not so well as if you had some place quiet to cogitate.

      If you can't listen to music because that's the part of your brain that also processes code, you tend to be at a disadvantage because there's no refuge in wearing headphones. I do OK in an open plan environment, but I do better in an office, since when I get into a deep problem, I tend to react to expected distraction. On the plus side, I can generally go fairly deeper than someone who is listening to music, or at least that's my personal anecdotal experience.

      Generally speaking, in open plan cube farm companies, you can typically find a small conference room, or you can find a quiet corner of a lab, or you can grab a phone room, or you can work from home (which they tend to tolerate better than office-based companies) in these situations, so it's not impossible to make progress on deep problems.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Do you know why, in some individuals, music processing and code generation are mutually exclusive ? I would like to know because I suffer from that to., Let me give you an advice, before I had an office, I had a refuge: a pair of noises cancelling headphones plugged into a muted jack.

        • Listening to music is a right brain activity, and making intuitive cognitive leaps, such as concluding closure of an algorithm or detailed debugging operations is also a right brain activity.

          The two sources I have are:

          The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
          Jaynes, Julian
          Houghton Mifflin, 1976
          Mariner Books, 2000 ISBN-10: 0618057072
          Pages 367-368

          Peopleware : productive projects and teams
          Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister
          Dorsett House, 1999 ISBN-10: 0932633439
          Online PDF: Search for Peop

          • by Reziac (43301) *

            Interesting. I write fiction (which as I do it is mostly a series of cognitive leaps), and I find I concentrate and "do my thing" best when the whole rest of me is busy doing something else, such as physical labor or ... listening to music; the best music for the purpose is EBM/industrial/aggrotech, where half the time you can't understand 'em anyway. I wonder if what it really does is drown out the white noise from the *rest* of the right brain, which would otherwise be wandering in all directions.

      • Lots of coders put on some of the most insane music to help them concentrate. I use music to drown out distractions. Distractions like ringing phones, people yapping about this or that, etc. (everything bad about an open floor plan). I also use music /for/ a bit of distraction - I can't concentrate as well on tasks in an anechoic chamber as I can with music playing.

        I think it's a bit more complicated.

      • by jittles (1613415)
        Hmm, my boss and my girlfriend both think I do an amazing job of tuning aboslutely all noise out to focus on things. In fact, if I am reading, or coding, or even watching TV I can completely lose track of the fact that there are other people around. I often listen to music while I code and realize suddenly that I hadn't heard a sing song in 20-30 minutes. I think this comes from the fact that I grew up in a very large family, with a very noisy house. If you couldn't learn to tune everything out, you cou
    • by Kjella (173770)

      That would be true if everything you did at work was individual tests. That small banter tends to help coordination, I know more about what coworkers are doing or not doing, what they're making progress on, what they're stuck on and if we're on the same page with regards to what we're creating. I'm not so sure the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but it's not that easy. Then again I'm pretty good at mentally blocking it as much as I need to.

      • by vlm (69642)

        The problem is in decades in the biz I've never worked with people where 99% of the "small banter" isn't non-work-related:

        I know more about what coworkers are doing or not doing,

        My cube neighbor's new girlfriend, this guy's landscaping project, new home-moaner's immense list of project (who the hell takes all the lightbulbs outta the house when they move out? Like WTF? These were old fashioned bulbs when the house was being shown not expensive LEDs)

        what they're making progress on

        Mostly alcoholism. Dude we're going to the bar after work. Oh man I was out till 2am last night I'm so hung ove

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Isn't it odd that you never hear people complaining, "I'm trying to concentrate here, so make a bunch of noise, OK?"

      Von Neumann did, actually.

      Pissed the hell out of Einstein when he'd play his phonograph loud as hell down at Princeton.

    • DeMaro & Lister looked at the impact of open plan vs closed offices on productivity waaay back in 1987 in the first edition of "Peopleware". Alas senior management and the beancounters still seem to just look at the capital cost & seem to think partitions are cheaper. I guess they are when the company decides to downsize the cubes to squeeze more sheep into the farm.
    • Look at the high cost of loud open plan cube farms... imagine being able to lower your salary costs by 10% to 30% by productivity increases, merely by providing a more humane working environment.

      Isn't it odd that you never hear people complaining, "I'm trying to concentrate here, so make a bunch of noise, OK?"

      Funny you mention this.

      Over the years I have gotten a lot of grief from women I know (who generally have never had to work in cube farms) who get very disconcerted at the way I can so completely tune out external distractions while I am read/coding/gaming that I don't even realize that they were speaking.

      This 'laser brain' focus is so complete and automatic, that I literally will fail to process verbal input if I am also trying to read something that is not directly related to the conversation the speaker i

  • by zhiwenchong (155773) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:15PM (#41379627)

    I find I'm very productive when I focus on short tasks and switch between them (sort of like how co-routines work).

    I'm not productive when I'm doing more than one thing at a time.

  • by fibonacci8 (260615) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:16PM (#41379645)
    For what task(s) were the accompanying unrelated words used? If there weren't additional tasks used to measure the retention of the unrelated words, this doesn't test multitasking at all. Not to mention the 10%/30% drops do not represent a loss in productivity if the additional simultaneous tasks result in a net improvement. The summary sounds like a first grader put together the experiment, time to read the article...
  • by Kuukai (865890) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:17PM (#41379655) Journal
    It seems to me that they're comparing two different attention tasks. In multi-tasking, you would be concerned with how the brain juggles two or more things you're [i]trying[/i] to focus on, while this one is talking about how you deal with meaningless distraction. Related, maybe, but how is it multi-tasking?
    • Because cognitively speaking there is no real difference. Whether the additional information is something that is used in the overall task or not is really quite irrelevant to overall performance. After all, what is "relevant" to the task or not really is just our interpretation (in a sort of way).

      • by Kuukai (865890)
        Isn't that an assumption that itself warrants extensive experimentation before you can base another experiment entirely on it? Besides, if the unused information is, say, musical tones instead of words, experience tells me you're probably going to see less of an effect on memory. But by this "all distractions effect you equally" model it should be the same as shouting out numbers while you're doing math, etc., which I have known from 2nd grade not to have the same effect as random background noise.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just like idiots who think it's OK for THEM to use cell phones while driving.

    Get this:

    NO YOU'RE NOT.

    • I am special. I have issues with mental hyperactivity. I literally think about two to three things at once, without even trying. If my work performance is any indicator, I can do it at least as well as people who don't.

      I don't use my cell phone while driving though. There's a special place in hell for those people.
    • But *I'm* special! It's perfectly safe for me to drive while replying to your post on my cell pho
  • If I'm multitasking, it usually means that one of the activities I am doing is extremely inane. I'd like to see a comparison of how well people focus when they multitask, when the task is extremely inane and for a long period of time. Say, eight hours.

  • Invalid test (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:20PM (#41379685) Journal

    Let's try this. You have four tasks. Each task has some dead time involved as you're waiting for something to happen. Subject 1 does each task sequentially. Subject 2 interleaves the tasks, doing work on the next task during the dead time in the previous task. Who finishes first?

    Multitasking reduces the time you are waiting for a task to complete, and in many environments, despite the acknowledged penalty due to context switching, you'll come out ahead.

    It seems like all they proved is that distraction is not good. (Well done, Captain Obvious.) That's not testing effectiveness of multitasking.

    • It seems like all they proved is that distraction is not good. (Well done, Captain Obvious.) That's not testing effectiveness of multitasking.

      Yeah, but now we know it's between 10% and 30% distracting! And now we know that, we can... um... ooh, shiny thing, brb.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Yeah, ok, but it depends on what you mean by "multi". I have three PCs at work, and am typically working four or five jobs. But much of what I do is batch -- I set something up, let it run for awhile, and when its done it will sit there happily until I'm ready to look at it. The level of distraction is very low, but effectiveness would suffer greatly if I did all tasks sequentially.

        You can arrange the experiment to prove almost anything, if you ignore that the way multitasking is managed is important.

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        Yeah, but now we know it's between 10% and 30% distracting! And now we know that, we can... um... ooh, shiny thing, brb.

        I think I missed something in the Official List of Slashdot memes: it used to be that "shiny thing" meant the writer had ADD, but it's beginning to look like a secret name for "boobies"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      >Subject 1 does each task sequentially. Subject 2 interleaves the tasks, doing work on the next task during the dead time in the previous task. Who finishes first?

      Is there a startup time associated with changing tasks?

      If there is none, and the tasks as simple as "Listen to music in the elevator" then "Go get a sandwich from the vending machine" you are right.

      If the tasks were even as complicated as "Listen to music by selecting a new record and playing it" then "Go make a sandwich and eat it" every time

    • Let's try this. You have four tasks. Each task has some dead time involved as you're waiting for something to happen. Subject 1 does each task sequentially. Subject 2 interleaves the tasks, doing work on the next task during the dead time in the previous task. Who finishes first?

      Multitasking reduces the time you are waiting for a task to complete, and in many environments, despite the acknowledged penalty due to context switching, you'll come out ahead.

      It seems like all they proved is that distraction is not good. (Well done, Captain Obvious.) That's not testing effectiveness of multitasking.

      Unfortunately, that's NOT what they're hitting me with when I'm pressed to multi-task. That's the kind of multi-tasking I used to do before everyone had to be 110% efficient, back when I dumped decks of punched-cards in at the computer room window, sat down and run through printouts from the previous runs, went over to the keypunch and punched corrections to those jobs while waiting for the morning's submissions to come back.

      We didn't use the word "multi-tasking" back then. Of course, we didn't use the word

    • by sjames (1099)

      Serial batch is not multi-tasking. Try doing those tasks while dealing with an asynchronous interrupt such as the phone or a drive-by manager.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Serial batch is not multi-tasking. Try doing those tasks while dealing with an asynchronous interrupt such as the phone or a drive-by manager.

        Everything you do is serial batch, if you adjust the granularity appropriately. If you're talking about excessively interrupt driven, I'd argue that's a special case of multitasking, and a singularly ineffective one.

    • Multitasking reduces the time you are waiting for a task to complete, and in many environments, despite the acknowledged penalty due to context switching, you'll come out ahead.

      That's executing sequentially and not "multitasking" - you're only ever doing one thing at a time.

      Try completing all four tasks (or even just one) while holding a continuing conversation with someone, without gaps in either your work or the task. That is multitasking.
      (And your success at it will depend on the nature of the task and your own capabilities .)

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Multitasking reduces the time you are waiting for a task to complete, and in many environments, despite the acknowledged penalty due to context switching, you'll come out ahead.

        That's executing sequentially and not "multitasking" - you're only ever doing one thing at a time.

        At a fine enough granularity, everything is sequential. If executing part of a task before going on to the next part of a different task is still doing tasks sequentially, then there is no such thing as multitasking, at least for reasonable definitions of the word.

        I had a drive-by manager incident today, while I was sharing my screen with what is laughably called IT in India while also dealing with a customer issue in a communicator window. Realistically, you can only do one thing at a time, although with

    • Yes, it is, because the brain doesn't inherently know if a task is related, nor does it matter. The more things the brain must attend do, the worse it does. Play pinball, the more balls on the field the more likely you are to lose a ball due to attentional reasons. The brain doesn't generally do "true" multitasking; attentional control is shifted from one task to the other, perhaps very rapidly, but it generally is quite serial in how it works.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Yes... well,,,,, yes... The reason I'm hesitating to provide complete agreement, is that I'm thinking reflexes are not serial. Otherwise you couldn't do something atheletic that had multiple simultaneous components.

        I think it's safe to say that the cognitive things we do are serial, but the body... the reflexes... the lizard brain, whatever you want to call it, can very definitely be trained to do more than one thing at a time.

        In the case of pinball, I would argue that you *can* manage multiple balls, if y

  • Many ladies claim that men can only do one thing at a time...
  • So should I focus on making sure my heart is beating, breathing regularly, or digest food?
  • You think you can drive and text at the same time and avoid causing an accident. You are wrong!

    Please don't find out the hard way.
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      You think you can drive and text at the same time and avoid causing an accident. You are wrong!

      Hell, forget driving, try something more basic, like walking. People walk into street furniture all the time (I'm sure YouTube has millions of people walking into lamp posts, benches, fountains and down stairs). Or even worse, walking onto the road in front of a car (happens quite often), usually with very tragic results. And these aren't the people who try to be oblivious to the outside world.

      Driving is complica

  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:38PM (#41379933) Journal

    Multitasking is doing two tasks at once. This is just distracting the kids. When people multitask, they generally get to choose when they do each task. In this experiment they just randomly hear unrelated words. This experiment has nothing to do with multitasking.

    I'm not going to argue that multitasking is beneficial, but the real story is the abysmal quality of this research.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Actually, multitasking has morphed into corporate speak for a noisy distracting cube farm where you're not allowed to turn the ringer on your phone off.

    • by eulernet (1132389)

      Sorry, but you are wrong.

      Understanding written or spoken words use the same parts of the brain, so this is multitasking.

      It would be different if they were experimenting unrelated tasks, like reading and passively listening (without focus) to music.
      You don't use the same parts of your brain for such tasks.

    • This research is absolutely fine and you are the one that is utterly confused. What do you think human attention is? Cognitively speaking, the more you have to attend to, the more your attention must shift between all the stimuli. Also, you can't completely focus on what is hitting your ears unless you (to use your own poorly-chosen words) "choose" to attend to it, who cares if they chose the task to begin with or not?

      Most of you are confusing multitasking on the overt functional level and the cognitive

      • > , their brain is given another task to have to attend to in addition to the other(s). A task they are given no credit for completing, thereby ignoring half of the tasks completed. If I listen to a lecture while perusing email, sure I my process fewer emails. BUT I also listened to the lecture. The study ignores the value of having heard the lecture. Or say I ride the bus and write a report. I didn't ride any additional miles, so according to that study multi-tasking (writing while riding) didn't d
        • > BUT I also listened to the lecture. The study ignores the value of having heard the lecture.

          You almost certainly did not "absorb" it as well. Good thing they've done studies just like or similar to what you described--guess what? Memory retention is much, much lower as your brain had to bounce in between focusing on the e-mails and the lecture.

          >Or say I ride the bus and write a report. I didn't ride any additional miles, so according to that study multi-tasking (writing while riding) didn't do me

  • That is simply distraction. According to the summery they where only ever tasked with doing one thing, but in the "multitasking" phase they where distracted by extraneous noises.

    • Which, cognitively speaking, is irrelevant. The brain has to focus between two different tasks. Filtering out "distractions" is a task. This research is fine and this is actually very standard sort of methodology in cognitive science/psychology and frankly I'm not even sure how this is even newsworthy at all.

      • A partially subconscious "task" is not the same as actually having a goal (or 2 in the case of multitasking) and actively accomplishing it/them.
        And if the reason of study is to find productivity you must add up all tasks, which is impossible if we are talking about distractions as tasks. Of course if you add a second concurrent task you become slower at the first task, but overall you very well might be getting more done, the same, or less (this study cannot say either way, as it is flawed).

        • A partially subconscious "task" is not the same as actually having a goal (or 2 in the case of multitasking) and actively accomplishing it/them.

          Again, irrelevant, since cognitively speaking both are two separate tasks and our external interpretation of whether something is being done or accomplished is really quite irrelevant. This is a fine experiment as described and is standard methodology within cognitive psychology. Boy, I wish I had an armchair psychologist's understanding of cognitive psychology so I

          • OK the distraction is a task, for the sake of the argument, I will agree on that point.
            But how are we to measure the productivity of ignoring the distraction.

            And at the end of day, it does not matter if it is standard methodology. It matters if it actually correct methodology.

  • Without having read the article, it seems like this study might have a flaw. The brief description seems to imply an overlap in the two tasks: memorizing read words and hearing unrelated words. I'm not sure most types of multitasking are like this. I can context switch as long as there's enough switched. Besides, isn't real multitasking the ability to make progress on one task and then ignore it for a bit while making progress on another task? I hardly ever attempt to do *simultaneous tasks*.
  • I can't listen to an audiobook and read textual content at the same time, because it's using the same 'context' in my brain. I also can't talk while listening to an audiobook (I miss book content) but I can sing. I can also listen to an audiobook and play a game on my tablet - depending on the skills involved in the game. And I retain what I've heard while doing well in the game.

    Seems pretty clear that if you are focusing on one task, and you interrupt/overlap that task with contextually related data... yo

    • by neminem (561346)

      Even more than that - I've found that I can read just as quickly while listening to music as while not, but if the music has -singing-, my reading speed is much slower. Unless the singing is in a language I don't understand, in which case it's just as fast again.

    • I play MMO's with comedy playing on my G19 keyboards little screen. I can follow both really well. But if the MMO has a talking section that gets busy (must have information, interesting story) I need to pause the TV. Not so in combat unless I have to use voice chat. Typed chat is no problem.

      For the person below, I listen to Japanese music for that reason, it is wonderfully old fashioned, contains little anger and it is like a Sim singing, it has rythm, is nice to listen to but I don't have to process what

  • I was reading something in a different tab at the same time.

  • Like everything in life, it depends.

    It depends on: a) What you mean by "task". Is a task an activity taken in isolation? Or a series of smaller related activities. Let's say you're a cook. You chop the onions while waiting for the broth to cook. Or you can do a totally unrelated activity like Facebook rather than "unproductively" stare at the oven for an hour.

    b) Speed that you switch tasks. If you change tasks every few minutes, your productivity drops because you need to speed some time acquainting or reac

    • by godrik (1287354)

      I usually consider human multitasking as "begin able to perform two precise tasks simultaneously in less time than it would take to do one and then the other." Or for the 'continuous' tasks it would be without loss of accuracy.

      Clearly, I can not talk and watch a movie. And clealry my wife can not browse the web and watch tv.

  • Sound like Microsoft will like this news as Windows 8's interface makes multitasking difficult.
  • Lets see: if you spew random words into people's ears they can't remember the words they're supposed to. This happens all the time in work: try to count a bunch of items when others are saying random numbers at you. It's fun, but hardly groundbreaking.

    And they did this with 2nd graders and college students.

    Why don't they use real professionals in these studies? 2nd graders have attention spans of gnats. College students have the attention span of big gnats. And the task is ridiculous.

    Real multitasking happe

  • I have been spending more time at a property I acquired to see if I might want to live there. I did not sign up for cable tv etc so I only have OTA TV and my iPhone. Not using a DVR I have noticed I have to pay much better attention to programs (using DVD player for old series too). And the iPhone-only for Internet has let me refocus on long term tasks. 24x7365 is dead end. I am cutting the cable for tv to start.
  • The study was about whether or not unrelated noise would cause distraction and hinder focus -- NOT about multitasking.

    Then the author of the study uses that to make general statements
    about multitasking.

    Multi tasking isn't about "distractions", and how they hurt performance
    on a primary task, it's about having more than 1 primary task and being
    able to do it with some degree of facility while you do another.

    Yes -- it's obvious, you devote 50% cpu to 1 task, another task will only have 50%... there's no free lu

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